The Mechanics of an Empire
Caesar III puts you in the role of a governor building a town from scratch. Your manager on behalf of the Emperor rates your performance based on population, crime rate, revenue, cultural attainments, etc.
As is typical for a city-simulation game, you are the Supreme Tyrant of your town. You must provide food and housing for your citizens, make sure they can get to the buildings that need employees, balance your building needs with tax income, and more.
Bread for the Masses
The food system is especially complex, requiring much concentration and study to perfect. Farms (which require labor) will produce food, which is delivered to granaries (which require labor). From there, it is distributed to markets (which require labor), which send “market ladies” out to distribute food directly to people’s homes. In especially complex cities, a market lady might take a wrong turn, leaving people down the dead end to starve until she figures it out.
And there is no way to control the way the people walk. They travel the roads of your city, randomly deciding which branch to take at each crossroad, and returning to their starting building once they “run out of food” or get tired.
All this careful finagling is perfect for sucking in hours of the player’s time. After all, figuring out how the system works and what you need to tweak to get it to function is all part of the fun!
If you happen to have a “warehouse” near your farms (designed to hold other things like pottery and furniture – oh, yes, you have to provide those, too) the warehouse might accidentally collect the food intended for the granary (in case you want to sell food to traders, you see) and this means the market workers can’t access it from the granary!
(Did I mention farms can only be built on land that’s arable?)
This is not a fighting game, although it includes limited mechanics for warfare. Some of the areas you will be assigned to are threatened by “savages” who will attack your town! (It’s even possible to face Carthaginians on elephants!)
If your town is in a dangerous area, you will have the ability to build military structures. These include walls and gatehouses, plus barracks for housing legions of soldiers (spearmen, legionaries, or horsemen).
I preferred playing maps that were “moderately” dangerous, so I could build gates to contain my populace (building a gatehouse across the road keeps people from wandering down its full length) and hosting soldiers to help put down potential riots (if you keep your citizens stuffed and entertained, they’ll pay their taxes and behave. Ignore their demands, and they’ll get vocal and torch-wielding about it).
Variation of Terrain
Caesar III adds variety by offering you assignments in different parts of the empire. For instance, you might take a post in the wilds of Britannia, where the grass is lush and green, and the groundwater easy to tap. (You must build fountains to give your people water, supplied by the famous Roman aqueducts.)
But perhaps you will be sent to North Africa, where the pale sand is dotted with shrubs and bushes, and water is harder to provide. You’ll also have to use your farmland very wisely, as farms can only be built where crops will grow. Of course, working out the geometry for maximum farm-age is part of the fun!
In some areas, you are provided with lots of coastline, and expected to feed your people with fishing wharves. Sometimes there are even “primitive” natives, who must be pacified with a missionary post (teaching Latin and civilizing through education, of course!).
Your people are really demanding, and no sooner do you give them pottery and oil than they want furniture and wine! (Just click on the houses, or on the crowds walking the streets, and they’ll tell you exactly what they think!)
Also, sometimes wild animals will run around the map and stand right where you want to put a building!
Your Imperial Boss
You may have the ultimate authority and responsibility over the people and buildings in your city…but Rome has ultimate authority over you!
Caesar gives you money to get you started, and might send you loans to get you out of trouble should you need it… But he also has demands to make.
It’s not unheard of for him to demand 20 units of oil, or pottery, or another commodity. Then you have to order your warehouses to stockpile this item, and hope you gather enough before the deadline.
Don’t keep the Emperor waiting.
The “God” Mechanic
There are even more things to worry about as you try to build your city! Five Roman gods (Mars, Venus, Ceres, Mercury, and Neptune) will want temples and festivals in their honor. Your citizens are also happy to be able to pay their respects, and will want access to several different nearby temples so they can cover all their bases.
But if you should ignore them for too long…or – heaven forbid – give some other god more temples than they have…! Oh, they will make their wrath known!
Fortunately, you can turn “gods’ effects” off on the difficulty screen. I usually played with this “off” unless I had all the gods fat and happy.
So, Caesar III is a great way to burn the extra hours in your life. It’s even fun to tweak the systems in your city and gradually afford bigger and better buildings (I have yet to have a city that could support a hippodrome, but I’ve dreamt of it). Building your first colosseum, of course, always sparks a cut scene celebrating your promotion from “village” to “city”!
But educational content?
Back in my younger days playing this, I discovered a little question mark box in the corner of whatever dialogue screen you were in. Clicking this button opened a whole new world.
If you were interacting with a house, the ?-button would give you information about the Roman homes and the differences between simple terra cotta “casas” and the multi-story “insulae” (which are more like apartment complexes).
If you were interacting with the colosseum or theater, you could learn about entertainment in ancient Rome. The warehouse might tell you about ancient trade routes. The granary, food supply.
Believe it or not, at the age of twelve I spent a lot of my play time reading these little informational items, digging through to learn how each element of the game connected with the real Rome.
Educational games don’t have to be bright and colorful, or feature singing animals. All you need is a curious kid, and something that connects the game world with real life.
Rule the Empire!
To be perfectly and completely honest, I haven’t played this game out to the bitter end. Part of the reason is that it’s addictive (I’ll just build one more clinic…just wait until a few more people immigrate…ooh, a little more money and I can build this thing right over here…) Like a jigsaw or cross-word puzzle, each missing piece (say, a neighborhood that wants pottery) connects with several other pieces (like clay pits that need workers to run them) and each right answer is dependent on several others (like figuring out how you’ll feed the neighborhood that’s tucked in the corner by the clay pits to supply workers to the clay pits).
It might be more fun for those who enjoy attention-to-detail and obsess over the connection of many moving parts…while those who need a faster pace or more instantaneous affirmation might get bored.
But if you’re up for a challenge, have plenty of free time (like, HOURS of free time), and wouldn’t mind learning about the ancient Roman Empire…then I highly recommend Caesar III!
Caesar III is available for Windows from GoG.com, optimized for modern computers.
I used Crossover to play this version on my Mac, and it works fine.
Also available on Steam for Windows (be aware Steam DRM-locks their software).
Find on Amazon as a digital download (for Windows), or in disk form.
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